Ed reviews 'Anonymous'

Rhys Ifans plays the man behind the works of William Shakespeare. Submitted photo.


Were the works attributed to William Shakespeare actually

written by one man, and if so, was Shakespeare actually the one man that wrote

them? People have been arguing about this since the middle of the 19th

century, and who better to address the subject on film than Roland Emmerich,

the man who brought the world Independence

Day, the 1998 Godzilla remake, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Anonymous is a confusing but entertaining exploration of one of

the authorship theories, slathered with sex scandals and political intrigue.

John Orloff's screenplay is lurid hooey. I had a good time trying to wade

through it.

It doesn't hurt that the production is packed with skilled

British actors and that the visuals look so authentic. Emmerich's use of CGI is

effective and not nearly as showy as you might expect given his credits.

Orloff selects Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of

Oxford (Rhys Ifans), as the true author. Fearing the political and cultural

ramifications of being a popular writer, he tries to get playwright Ben Jonson

(Sebastian Armesto) to put his name on the works. Jonson is willing to help

with the scam, but hesitant to put his name on the Earl's creations, as he

feels it would compromise his own work.

While the men try to determine whose name to put on the

writings, actor and opportunistic boob William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall)

responds to audience cries of "Author! Author!" by stepping to the front of the

stage and taking credit himself. After some teeth-gnashing, Oxford cuts a deal

with the actor to maintain the pretense and an epic scam is born.

That's just one of several plot lines. I won't try to

summarize the others - I suggest you grab onto the Shakespeare premise and hold

on tight. Your experience will be further complicated by the presence of both

the young adult and fully-grown versions of numerous cast members as the

screenplay hops between time periods. And then there's the presence of a great

many red-haired individuals who look like they could be related. It plays a key

part in the story, but adds to the confusion.

Trying to keep up with rapidly-changing events and a slew of

individuals whose identities were unclear was not a turn-off for me. I do it

every day in the real world. What I did have difficulties with was the film's

depiction of William Shakespeare. Yes, I understand that part of the reason

people challenged Shakespeare's authorship was that they thought he was

insufficiently schooled to have written such complex and informed works. But

the Shakespeare presented in the film is a full-on buffoon. Despite being in a

cooperative state of mind, it was hard to roll with the notion that anyone in

that world would believe that such an obvious nitwit could have written such

sophisticated plays.

But never mind that. Better to enjoy the tension, the

intrigue and the scandals. Enjoy real-life mother and daughter Vanessa Redgrave

and Joely Richardson as the older and younger versions of Queen Elisabeth.

They're both quite fine, though Redgrave's turn is particularly amusing and

touching. Enjoy the atmosphere and the sense of visual authenticity (they

didn't perform plays by torchlight at night, by the way - they were all

performed during the day. But forget that - we're never-minding). The bottom

line is that Roland Emmerich makes dumbass movies that are sometimes very

entertaining and oftentimes not. Anonymous

is easily his best film. Make of that what you will.


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